Heywood "Woody" Allen (born December 1, 1935) is an American director, actor, screenwriter, comedian, playwright, story writer, essayist, and musician. He was born Allen Stewart Konigsberg to an Ashkenazi Jewish family in New York City. Most of his films are set in New York and feature Jewish or Ambiguously Jewish characters, often with himself or an Author Avatar in the lead role.
His childhood wasn't particularly happy, and so he began writing dark-tinged humor — and was already selling the occasional joke by his mid-teens.
At seventeen, he entered NYU and the City College, but was quickly expelled. He started to write scripts to shows like The Tonight Show, appeared in Candid Camera segments like when he had temp secretaries dictating a love letter, and doing Recorded and Stand-Up Comedy exaggerating his own traits. He's never stopped, though the medium, and eventually the Author Avatar, has varied. Among other traits, his character is nearly always a Sickly Neurotic Geek, and full of Jewish Complaining.
He started directing movies in 1965. Since then, he has directed 41 movies that range from Screwball Comedy to Drama. He was nominated for an Academy Award twenty-four times, including a record fifteen nominations for Best Screenplay. He has won four Academy Awards — three for Best Screenplay (Annie Hall; Hannah and Her Sisters and Midnight in Paris) and one for Best Director (Annie Hall). His Annie Hall famously beat Star Wars for the Best Picture Oscar. Allen himself is not really interested in awards; he showed up at the Oscars ceremony only once in 2002, when he encouraged producers to continue filming their movies in New York after 9/11.
Most of his comedies have a certain amount of drama, varying with his mood over time. Most of his dramas have a certain amount of comedy, but the comedy is more diluted in them.
The soundtracks of his movies tend to be jazz music and old (as in 1920s-1930s) standards, no matter when or where the film is set. He did write a musical once, Everyone Says I Love You, but the songs are all lifted directly from that era.
He's undergone psychoanalysis for 30 years. Exactly what good it's doing, no one knows, but his experience with psychiatrists has made its way into numerous works.
He's also notorious for being a heavy womanizer. He has been involved with Harlene Rosen, Louise Lasser, Diane Keaton, Stacey Nelkin, Mia Farrow — and Soon-Yi Previn, Mia's adopted daughter with former husband Andre Previn. Woody had adopted Dylan and Moses Farrow, two of Mia's adopted children but had no contact with Soon-Yi for most of her life. He engaged in an affair with Soon-Yi when she was 19, and the resulting outcry led to a bitter and public legal battle and media circus that still defines his image. During this period, he was also accused of sexually assaulting Mia Farrow's other daughter Dylan Farrow when she was seven. Dylan still maintains the accusations, while Allen denies them. His other adopted child, Moses Farrow, has since parted ways with Mia Farrow and befriended Woody with whom he was estranged during the controversy, and has supported Allen's side of the argument against Mia Farrow and Dylan Farrow, insisting that Woody is innocent. Meanwhile, Allen's son with Farrow, Ronan Farrow, supports Dylan and Mia and denounces Woody.
Naturally, almost every single plotline of Allen's scripts is about sex, adultery and relationships, among other interesting things.
He also plays the clarinet and has written humorous essays and short stories. (There's one about Count Dracula who finds what looks like a perfect lunch — only to find out he woke up during a solar eclipse. And the apartment is Danish modern with no shades.)
While his work in the 70s and 80s are all almost universally loved by fans, his films of the 90s and (especially) the 00s are divisive amongst critics and audiences, with Match Point, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Midnight in Paris and Blue Jasmine receiving high praise, while other pictures (namely The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, Hollywood Ending, Anything Else and Melinda and Melinda) being not well thought of by most. It should be noted, however, that even the most critically derided films of his filmography still tend to have a few fans here and there.
A somewhat abridged list of his movies is presented here:
- What's New Pussycat? (1965) - His first movie (although it was directed by Clive Donner). Peter O'Toole tries to be faithful to his fiancee, but he's a Chick Magnet. Peter Sellers is his psychoanalyst, who is stalking one of his patient's stalkers in a motel in France. Allen plays O'Toole's friend who has a crush on the fiancee. The film originally going to star Warren Beatty, but when Woody was hired to rewrite it, he kept building up a bit part for himself and shrinking Beatty's role so blatantly that the star quit.
- What's Up, Tiger Lily? (1966) - A secret agent is sent to Sim Sim Salabim to find a lost egg salad recipe. Gag Dubbed from a Japanese James Bond knockoff. The concept was so novel at the time that he appears in an introduction to explain the concept to the audience. Interestingly, the project was originally offered to Lenny Bruce, who turned it down and recommended Allen for it instead.
- Casino Royale (1967) - Not written or directed by Allen, but he plays Jimmy Bond, James Bond's "disappointing" nephew, who is the head of SMERSH and plans to kill all men over 4' 6" tall, so that he gets all the girls.
- Take the Money and Run (1969) - A Mockumentary focusing on an incompetent, petty thief. Co-written by Allen. His debut as a full-fledged director.
- Men of Crisis: The Harvey Wallinger Story (1971) - A short Mockumentary satirizing Richard Nixon's politics. Made for PBS, but they were afraid of losing their government support, so it was never aired.
- Bananas (1971) - To impress a girl, Allen learns to be a revolutionary in a Banana Republic. Hilarity Ensues.
- Play It Again, Sam (1972) - A neurotic Allen tries to date other women following the advice of Humphrey Bogart's ghost. Based on Allen's own Broadway play, the film was written by him but directed by Herbert Ross.
- Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask) (1972) - A series of sketches providing parodic answers to such questions as "What are sex perverts?" and "What is sodomy?"
- Sleeper (1973) - A health-food store owner (Allen) is cryonically frozen (without his consent) for 200 years only to find that the 22nd century America is a police state ruled by a nose. Yes, a nose.
- Love And Death (1975) - An Affectionate Parody of Dostoevsky's and Tolstoy's romances. Also the start of Allen's Tom Hanks Syndrome.
- The Front (1976) - This Martin Ritt-directed comedy-drama stars Allen as a bookie who lends his name to television screenplays written by his blacklisted friend during the anti-Communist Witch Hunt of the '50s.
- Annie Hall (1977) - Allen's most famous movie — and, perhaps, along with Manhattan, his best (though Allen himself doesn't think much of either of them). It focuses on the difficult relationship between a comedian and the ditzy Annie Hall. In the end, they split up. Winner of four Academy Awards: Best Picture (for which it beat Star Wars), Best Director (Allen), and Best Screenplay (Allen), Best Actress ( Diane Keaton). (Allen was also nominated for Best Actor.)
- Interiors (1978) - Three sisters find their lives spinning out of control after their parents' divorce. Allen's first straight drama and the first film he directed without starring in it.
- Manhattan (1979) - Allen in an intricate Love Dodecahedron with a seventeen-year-old girl, Diane Keaton and Meryl Streep. Probably his second most beloved movie after Annie Hall, but he considered the film such an abject disaster that he told the studio he'd make another for free if they didn't release it.
- Stardust Memories (1980) - While attending a retrospective of his work, a filmmaker (guess who) recalls his life and his loves: the inspirations for his films. Also the one that gave critics and fans the phrases "the early, funny ones" and "the later, serious ones".
- A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy (1982) - At the dawn of the 20th century, a philosopher, a womanizing doctor and their fiancées spend a weekend in the house of a Mad Scientist and his wife. Everyone ends up sneaking off behind everyone else's backs. Allen's first film featuring Mia Farrow who would go on to star in 12 others.
- Zelig (1983) - A Mockumentary: In the 1920s and 30s, a man named Leonard Zelig (Allen) involuntarily assumes the traits of the people surrounding him. He uses this ability to blend in with famous historical people and events and bed women.
- Broadway Danny Rose (1984) - A talent agent (Allen) attempts to reconcile a lounge singer with his mistress, Tina Vitale (Mia Farrow). However, he's mistakenly identified as Tina's lover by a jealous gangster.
- The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) - In The Great Depression, Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels) a character in the movie The Purple Rose of Cairo falls from the screen into the real world during the film's exhibition, and enters the life of a lonely, unhappily married woman (Mia Farrow).
- Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) - One of Allen's best-known movies. Between two Thanksgivings, a Love Dodecahedron makes three sisters switch their husbands. Oscar winners: Dianne Wiest and Michael Caine.
- Radio Days (1987) - A narrator (Allen) tells the story of his youth and the influence of radio in it.
- September (1987) - Yet another Love Dodecahedron, and a tragic story relating mother-daughter relationship, influenced by Ingmar Bergman. Inspired by stage play TV broadcasts. Allen filmed the whole movie, then threw out the whole cast, and started again with a new cast.
- Another Woman (1988) - A philosophy teacher (Gena Rowlands) observes the everyday of another woman (Mia Farrow) and decides to change everything bad in her own life.
- Oedipus Wrecks (1989) - A short film (part of New York Stories) about a lawyer who makes his Large Ham Jewish Mother disappear in an illusionist act. She reappears, floating in the sky over Manhattan, and she's not happy.
- Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) - A ophthalmologist (Martin Landau) hires a hitman to kill his mistress (Anjelica Huston), and a movie director (Allen) is hired to make a documentary about his brother-in-law (Alan Alda) whom he despises.
- Alice (1990) - A seemingly happy housewife (Mia Farrow) realizes that she's a Stepford Smiler. She visits an herbalist that gives her three kinds of herbs which provide her with super-powers so she can straighten up her life.
- Shadows and Fog (1991) - An homage to German Expressionism; a vigilante mob tries to catch a Serial Killer in the midst of a circus.
- Husbands and Wives (1992) - When their best friends announce that they're separating, a professor (Allen) and his wife (Mia Farrow) discover the faults in their marriage.
- Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993) - A nosy housewife (Diane Keaton) drags her reluctant husband (Allen) into an amateur investigation of their neighbour's death.
- Bullets Over Broadway (1994) - A Wide-Eyed Idealist playwright (John Cusack) has to cast a talentless woman (Jennifer Tilly) into the leading role of his Broadway play, because she's the girlfriend of a violent mobster. The second time that Dianne Wiest won Best Supporting Actress for a role in a Allen movie, beating out one of her costars.
- Don't Drink the Water (1994) - An American family is trapped in a US embassy behind the Iron Curtain while the ambassador's incompetent son is in charge. Based on his 1966 play, this TV adaptation was directed by Allen, who was dissatisfied with the earlier 1969 film adaptation.
- Mighty Aphrodite (1995) - An Affectionate Parody of Greek tragedies set in New York. Hilarity Ensues. Oscar winner: Mira Sorvino.
- Everyone Says I Love You (1996) - A Musical about a New York girl who manipulates the relationships of everyone around her.
- Deconstructing Harry (1997) - The Deconstructive Parody of a Deconstruction.
- Celebrity (1998) - After his divorce, a man blows every chance he has to be famous, while his ex-wife reaches stardom without doing much. Stars Kenneth Branagh doing a Woody Allen impression.
- Antz (1998) - An ant saves his colony from drowning at the hands of his General. A Shout-Out to Metropolis. As with The Front, Allen didn't write it or direct it, but he starred in it, and his character seems to have been tailored specifically for him.
- Sweet and Lowdown (1999) - A Mockumentary about a fictional Jerkass jazz guitarist (Sean Penn).
- Small Time Crooks (2000) - A criminal (Allen) tries to rob a bank by digging a tunnel from an old restaurant he bought. His wife (Tracey Ullman) covers up the scheme by selling cookies from the restaurant. The robbery is a miserable failure, but the cookies are a big success. Allen's first straight comedy since the '70s.
- The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001) - A insurance investigator (Allen) is hypnotized to steal jewels. His most expensive movie in terms of budget and also his biggest flop.
- Hollywood Ending (2002) - A movie director (Allen) suffers hysterical blindness while filming the movie that will restart his career.
- Anything Else (2003) - Allen serves as oracle to the love life of a young man (Jason Biggs). Notable in that it can easily be seen as a remake of Annie Hall.
- Melinda and Melinda (2004) - A group of screenwriters write two stories with the same premise to discover if life is tragic or comic.
- Match Point (2005) - A former professional tennis player (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is torn between his rich, high society wife (Emily Mortimer) and his lower class, sexually adventurous mistress (Scarlett Johansson). When his mistress gets pregnant and threatens to tell his wife, he resorts to drastic measures to keep his infidelity a secret. Set in and around London, rather than in New York.
- Scoop (2006) - A journalist, an illusionist and a ghost work together to uncover an aristocrat as a Serial Killer. Allen's second film in a row featuring Scarlett Johansson in London.
- Cassandra's Dream (2007) - Allen's return to Darker and Edgier works. An uncle convinces his two nephews to help him to get rid of an ex-partner who is testifying against him in court. Set in and around London, rather than New York. Also notable as one of his very few movies to have an original score.
- Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) - Two American women (Scarlett Johansson and Rebecca Hall) spend their summer in Barcelona, switching their mentalities about love as the story progresses. Oscar winner: Penélope Cruz.
- Whatever Works (2009) - Allen returns to New York. Larry David becomes a Lemony Narrator (Breaking the Fourth Wall several times) of his own life. He helps a ditzy young Southern Belle (Evan Rachel Wood) who ran away from her home. Eventually they marry. Then, her parents appear, looking for her.
- You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010) - Allen returns to London. The plot involves different members of a family after the father divorces the mother. Cast includes Naomi Watts, Anthony Hopkins and Antonio Banderas.
- Midnight in Paris (2011) - Set in Paris, the film stars Rachel McAdams, Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and supermodel/actress Carla Bruni (the wife of French President Nicolas Sarkozy). Allen's biggest critical hit in years, surpassing even the success of Vicky Cristina Barcelona. It's also his best-performing film financially, taking in over $56 million at the US box office (his previous record was the $40 million-grossing Hannah and Her Sisters).
- To Rome with Love (2012) - An anthology film set in Rome, it stars Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page, Alec Baldwin, Penélope Cruz, and Allen himself in his first acting role since Scoop.
- Blue Jasmine (2013) - Woody's first New York film since Whatever Works and his first San Francisco film since Take the Money and Run. It features Louis C.K., Alec Baldwin, Cate Blanchett (who won Best Actress) and Andrew "Dice" Clay.
- Magic in the Moonlight (2014) - A romantic comedy set on the French Riviera in the 1920s, starring Emma Stone and Colin Firth.
- Irrational Man (2015) - A mystery film starring Joaquin Phoenix as a professor going through an existential crisis and Emma Stone as the student he falls for.
- Café Society (2016) - A 1930s romance that follows Bronx-born Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg) to Hollywood, where he has a love affair with Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), and back to New York, where he is swept up in the vibrant world of high society nightclub life.
- Crisis in Six Scenes (2016) - A TV series for Amazon Studios. In the 1960s a quiet, apolitical family ends up with an unexpected guest who turns their lives upside down. Starring Allen himself, Elaine May and Miley Cyrus. Allen wrote and directed all episodes.
- Wonder Wheel (2017) - A drama set on Coney Island in the 1950s surrounding Ginny (Kate Winslet), her mobster husband Humpty (Jim Belushi), lifeguard Mickey (Justin Timberlake) and Humpty's runaway daughter Carolina (Juno Temple) and their lives intertwine and unravel.
- A Rainy Day in New York (2018) - Two young people (Timothée Chalamet, Selena Gomez) arrive in New York for a weekend where they are met with bad weather and a series of adventures.
Tropes common to his work include:
- The Anti-Nihilist: Several of Allen's protagonists are people who find reality to be miserable, full of suffering, and pretty much worthless. They generally seek to find something meaningful in their lives, try to escape from their reality, and/or simply try to enjoy their existence as best they can while they can. (Annie Hall, Stardust Memories, and Midnight in Paris) Allen himself expressed similar views in interviews.
- Auteur License: From his first film as director, Take the Money and Run. His contracts stipulate that once he has agreed the basic story with the film company, he has complete creative control.
- Bathos: Frequently used in his writings. For example: "Why does man kill? He kills for food. And not only food: frequently there must be a beverage." or "The universe is merely a fleeting idea in God's mind—a pretty uncomfortable thought, particularly if you've just made a down payment on a house."
- Big Applesauce: One of the trademarks of his works, as the vast majority of his films take place in and around New York. Averted in recent years, with every film since Melinda and Melinda (save for Whatever Works, Blue Jasmine, Irrational Man) shot in Europe, more specifically London, Rome, Barcelona and Paris. Some of his earlier films are also set in different locations. Take the Money and Run was shot in San Francisco, Love And Death takes place in Russia (but was shot in France) and Sleeper in the future. Sweet and Lowdown also takes place in a wide variety of locations.
- Bittersweet Ending: A number of his films end this way including Annie Hall and Broadway Danny Rose. The Purple Rose of Cairo is a subversion; the last minute of the movie heavily implies that the main character will have a better life from that moment on... with Fred Astaire but others see it as horribly bleak.
- Born Lucky: A huge theme in all his movies is that luck and chance shape how people live and act, and while people can choose and make decisions, that scope and ability to choose is also shaped by luck. In Match Point, the narrator Chris Wilton says:Chris Wilton: The man who said I'd rather be lucky than good, saw deeply into life.
- Bourgeois Bohemian: With the potential exception of Sweet and Lowdown, all of his films feature middle-class liberal characters who are either academics, professionals or incredibly wealthy. His movies are by no means celebrations of the same and his running theme is middle-class and liberal hypocrisy.
- Celebrity Toons/Not Quite Starring:
- Cerebus Syndrome: Sort of, while his works continued to be mostly comedies while dabbling in drama here and there, there was a point in time that fans wanted Allen to make more films like his "older, funnier" films.
- Darker and Edgier: Crimes and Misdemeanors, Match Point and most of his other dramas tend to embody pretty bleak worldviews. Deconstructing Harry is an example of one of his comedies that's a bit edgier than his other work being one of the only Allen films were the characters curse with any frequency.
- A Date with Rosie Palms: All of his comedies have a masturbation joke. Always pro-masturbation, always delivered by Allen's character.
- Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life: A main theme in his life and work. A famous scene in Manhattan has him summarizing things that make his life worthwhile on tape.
- Did Not Get the Girl: Annie Hall, Play It Again Sam, Anything Else, Cafè Society and Crimes and Misdemeanors all play this trope pretty straight, though it also averts it by pointing out that there are good reasons why the guy did not get the girl.
- Downer Ending: The Purple Rose of Cairo, Match Point, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Cassandra's Dream and Blue Jasmine all end with this kind of ending.
- Give Geeks a Chance: What many of the classic Woody Allen nebbish characters aspire to. It's deconstructed because some of the characters tend to be Entitled to Have You types and tend to neglect or overly idealize the women they fall into. The one time, it's played classically straight is Broadway Danny Rose.
- Jewish and Nerdy: Most, if not all of the characters that Allen plays in his films play this trope, to the point that many Jewish nerdy stereotypes used in popular culture nowadays are directly referring to him.
- Karma Houdini: A theme in many of his films is that there's no real karma in the world. Most murders are unsolved, Police Are Useless and with a bit of luck and ruthlessness, you can get away with a number of bad stuff you can do, and if there is justice, it usually comes down to luck. In Crimes and Misdemeanors and Match Point, Woody Allen also suggests that such a guy can get over the guilt, forget it and move on.
- Kavorka Man: Despite not exactly looking like a sex symbol, in his films Allen's characters manage to either get the girl or be in a relationship somehow.
- May–December Romance: He likes relationships with great age gaps.
- Mockumentary: Take the Money and Run, Zelig, and Sweet And Lowdown are all presented as documentaries.
- Nervous Wreck: His standard character in his films; a pessimistic by nature who'll be the first to panic under pressure, and sometimes even when there's no pressure.
- Recycled Soundtrack: A feature of most of his films - after 1972's Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex (But Were Afraid To Ask), his next film to have an original score composed for it was 2007's Cassandra's Dream.
- Reference Overdosed: His work makes several references to literature, art, jazz, philosophy, psychology, movies...
- Romanticism Versus Enlightenment: Allen is Enlightenment in terms of content but Romantic in terms of form:
- His movies are quite harsh in attacking conventional values, American beliefs of good triumphing over evil and he shows romantic relationships being very messy for both men and women, humans being far more amoral than purely good or purely evil and repeatedly criticizes religion and belief in God.
- Yet at the same time, Woody Allen's films are deliberately old-fashioned, stylistically evocative of classical Hollywood and the 60s European arthouse, constantly referring to older forms of American culture, features a great deal of classical and jazz music even in movies set in contemporary times. Allen himself notes that his depiction of New York is actually not realistic, that the particularly sophisticated urbane milieu he features in his movies derives more from 30s Hollywood movies than reality.
- Scenery Porn: Manhattan and Midnight in Paris both start with montages showing off the cities they take place in. Woody Allen likes to work with the best cinematographers of the world: Gordon Willis, Sven Nykvist, Vilmos Zsigmond, Darius Khondji.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: His films are stuck somewhere around the middle spot. There's a lot of cynicism going on but there almost always seems to be a twinge of morality, idealism, or hope, no matter how dark the film got.
- Viewers Are Geniuses: They'd have to be to keep up with all the references to classic and European cinema and philosophers. As Movieline columnist Joe Queenan put it in his 1991 essay, "Whine, Women and Song",Queenan: Woody Allen, whatever his failings, does not make movies for morons. Most directors do. Of course, most directors are morons.